Changes in IRL circumstances, the need to minmax and prioritize efficiency over fun/community, reduction in players (including your friends) in favor of other genres leading to subsequent changes in game design to focus on player retention/generation, and the communities are jaded & critical towards developers, are the reason no MMO feels right for you anymore. Probably in that order.
This is a reply to the "essay" that was popular this week. Specifically about the difference of how players were then compared to now.
This idea that constantly pops up that suggests people "back in the old days" were just a bunch of casual scrubs who just bumbled about in MMOs back in the 90s and 00s is just wrong. Sure, there were casuals back then just like there are now. However, people had access to almost as much information back then as do we now. We had parsers, we did the math for optimal DPS output, we had raid strats. Didn't know how to do a quest? Just look it up. There was data mining. Raiders were constantly sharing (or purposefully hiding) information. Leveling guides were used by everyone. Bots were available, something that exists purely for efficiency.
Jaded and critical towards developers? Hell, Tigole (Jeff Kaplan of Overwatch fame) made his famous blog post all the way back in early 2002. https://www.reddit.com/r/Overwatch/comments/4g2ler/jeff_tigole_kaplan_forum_rant_from_his_eq_days/
I played FFXI (released in NA in Oct 2003) and WoW (Nov 2004). In FFXI you had to pull your own weight. If you didn't then you were less likely to get invited to parties. If you were a monster DPS or a non-braindead tank/healer then you would get constant invites. I can personally vouch for there being 3rd party DPS parsers in 2004, perhaps even before then. People were racing to cap as many jobs as possible. If you played a job that traditionally had low DPS or utility then good fucking luck. Hardcore linkshells (guilds) had to race to claim open world bosses, going as far as to create illegal scripts and programs to do it. People would spend hundreds of hours to get individual pieces of gear that would give you 1% DPS increases. If that's not min/maxing then I don't know what is.
FFXI released on October 28th. There were already websites devoted to the game that had mission guides and comments within days. Didn't want to figure out a quest by yourself? Just look it up. Just like how it is nowadays. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20040122090457/http://ffxi.allakhazam.com/db/quests.html?fquest=4&start=25
Thottbot, Allakhazam, official forums, guild forums, etc. They all existed back then. Only difference now is that it's called WoWHead and Reddit. We even had voice chat back then, gasp! Ventrilo has been around since 2002. Many, many classic WoW guilds required it.
The whole point I'm trying to make is that people in general don't really change that much. There were assholes back then just like there are now. Elitists, casuals, semi-hardcore, hardcore, people who only played the economies for money, botters. There were people that would kick you out of the party/guild if you didn't have X DPS. If anything, people were more hardcore and likely to play for efficiency back then since PC gaming wasn't as easy back then. You can also have fun and a good community while also trying to being as efficient and as good of a player as possible. The reason I don't play MMOs now is purely because of the games. It's not because I'm overly jaded or efficient or have rose-colored glasses on.
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